A couple of weekends back, I went out to see my cousin Jim Shaw’s exhibit at Mass MoCa. I had seen a couple of Jim’s gallery exhibits in the past (mostly in New York City) and have always liked what Jim has done, but this show was an amazingly large exhibit of his work, taking up two floors of a vast brick mill building. Mass MoCa is located out in North Adams, a good three hour drive from Boston (the last hour or so on a very twisty country road that still has the nerve to call itself “Route 2.”) Many of the old mill towns in Massachusetts have theses unused building, and I’ve seen them turned into housing, shops and a textile museum (in Lynn), but I’ve never seen the vast space in these buildings used as effectively as the museum did with Jim’s art. The show featured numerous large installations (some maybe thirty feet high) scattered over the space, along with a number of rooms filled with Jim’s smaller pieces.
Jim’s work combines popular culture and classic art with a large dollop of humor. a number of pieces are based on Jim’s dreams, including a huge canvas that fills up two sides of a very large room, and features a gigantic, smiling Dan Quayle (who is shown twice in the diorama) reaching out to shake your hand. It’s both funny and a little frightening, typical of my cousin’s work.
My very most favorite installation was the Death of Superman. Jim often references comics in his art, most often classic DC characters. This room featured a large number of floor to ceiling banners, each one depicting a different pose of Superman in distress. It was both a little overwhelming and exceedingly cool at the same time.